Not all that glitters is gold in a rapidly expanding mining town. Environmental problems, health hazards, and a lack of education and opportunity still deprive thousands of children of the secure and healthy childhood they deserve.
Large-scale mining draws people to the area but infrastructure is not in place
Preparing to start school soon (photo: F. Espinoza)
Cajamarca is a city located in the district of the same name in the northern highlands of Peru. In just two years, the city’s population increased by over 30,000 to 188,363 inhabitants in 2007. It is an important emerging city in the Peruvian Andean region, not least due to the Yanacocha gold mine, which is located nearby and is one of the world’s biggest and most profitable mines.
However, poverty remains extremely high in the region at 64.5 per cent. There are 17 shanty towns in Cajamarca and a total of 28 neighbourhoods living in poverty. Almost half of the houses here are built from adobe and many of them have only one room, which the whole family shares.
The rapid expansion and population growth of the city, in combination with the intensive mining activity, has had severe environmental impacts on the surrounding rural areas that rely on small-scale agriculture. Rivers have been polluted, and a mercury spill in 2001 impacted the health of many.
Education and vocational training as a way out of poverty for the next generation
Less than a quarter of the local population have completed primary school and illiteracy remains high at 13.2 per cent. The majority of men in Cajamarca work as miners, bricklayers, drivers or street vendors. Only about 30 per cent of mothers in the area work, mostly as domestic helpers, laundresses or likewise as informal street vendors. They make around US$ 140 a month; even combined with a husband’s income, this is not enough to cover basic necessities. Low wages and the insecure nature of informal work also mean that they have to work long hours, leaving their children in the care of a relative or older sibling.
In order to sustainably improve the situation of children in the area, families urgently require support and education, which is why SOS Children’s Villages Peru began implementing a programme here in Cajamarca.
What we do in Cajamarca
A safe environment where children can be children (photo: F. Espinoza)
SOS Children’s Villages began its work in Cajamarca in 2010. The SOS Social Centre here provides a family strengthening programme that focuses on children under the age of six who have lost parental care or are at risk of losing it. One important aim is to improve health and nutritional conditions. The psychological development of the children is another important priority, as is ensuring inclusive education.
A childminding programme is available, which makes it possible for parents to leave their children in safe hands while they go out to work. The social centre also endeavours to provide the community with the resources it needs so that long-term stability for families can be ensured, for example training courses on various subjects such as self-esteem or family violence.
For children in Cajamarca who are no longer able to live with their parents, as of 2011 there are eight SOS families where up to 72 children can find a loving home, living with their brothers and sisters and affectionately cared for by their SOS mothers.